Former Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan has said that the timing of Justice S Muralidhar’s transfer was a mere coincidence, but the government should have been a “little careful” while issuing the notification, PTI reported.

On February 12, the Supreme Court collegium had recommended the transfer of Muralidhar to the Punjab and Haryana High Court from the Delhi High Court, where he had served since 2006. However, the government’s confirmation of the transfer came on the night of February 26 – the day Muralidhar made scathing remarks against the Centre and police during a hearing related to the violent clashes in North East Delhi.

Opposition parties immediately drew a link between the late-night transfer and Muralidhar’s observations during the hearing earlier that day. However, the Centre claimed it was a routine transfer based on the collegium’s recommendation and Muralidhar’s consent for the same.

Balakrishnan told PTI that it was a mere coincidence that the final transfer order was issued on the same day because the Supreme Court collegium had already recommended the same. Muralidhar’s transfer has nothing to do with the observations he made during the hearing, Balakrishnan said.

“When the situation in the country is so volatile and media and others are active, the government should have been a little careful while issuing such midnight transfer order as there are chances of people thinking otherwise,” the former chief justice said. “The people could interpret differently.”

Balakrishnan said that the petition Muralidhar was hearing had gone to his court that day only because Chief Justice DN Patel was on leave. The next day, the same case was listed for hearing before Patel’s bench.

The retired judge added he did not think that Muralidhar was asked to join the Punjab and Haryana High Court the next day itself. Normally, a transferred judge is given at least a week to prepare himself or herself to move, Balakrishnan said.

The petition Muralidhar was hearing had sought cases to be filed against three Bharatiya Janata Party leaders for hate speech before the violence broke out in North East Delhi on February 23. The judge asked police to consider filing the cases and give their response the next day. However, when Patel’s bench heard the matter on February 27, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the police were opposed to filing the cases at that time. The court gave the Centre a month to respond.